Liberals in dispute over genetic discrimination bill

The legislation will now be referred to Canada’s highest court after MPs went against Justin Trudeau's recommendations.

Liberals in dispute over genetic discrimination bill

Legislation which would ban employers from asking about the results of genetic tests – or requiring workers to take one – has hit a stumbling block despite overwhelming support in parliament.

Bill S-201 passed by a landslide vote of 222-60 last week, despite Justin Trudeau calling the legislation “unconstitutional” and urging MPs to vote against it.

Now, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has stalled the bill’s progress by referring to the Supreme Court of Canada for advice.

“We, as the prime minister articulated yesterday, have serious concerns about the constitutionality of one of the parts of the bill,” Wilson-Raybould said late last week. “That concern remains.''

The bill seeks to ensure Canadians can get genetic tests to help identify health risks without fear they'll have to share that information with potential employers or insurers.

Wilson-Raybould also said the government plans to wait until the bill clears a final hurdle in the Senate before launching the Supreme Court reference – a process which could leave the legislation in limbo more than two years.

Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, who sponsored the bill in the Commons, said he's disappointed that a court reference may delay both the protection of Canadians' human rights and their access to the best medical care possible.

“I call on the government to enact this bill as soon as possible while awaiting the Supreme Court decision,” he said. “Lives are at stake.”

Wilson-Raybould argues the bill intrudes on provincial jurisdiction to regulate the insurance industry but just three provinces – Quebec, British Columbia and Manitoba – have expressed reservations about the bill.

“The government is obviously looking more to the interests of the insurance lobby than they are to ordinary Canadians,'' said NDP House Leader Murray Rankin.

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